Listening to the Heart or the Head? Exploring the “Willingness Versus Ability” Succession Dilemma

Melanie Richards, Nadine Kammerlander, Thomas Zellweger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (SciVal)


Incumbents typically seek a highly committed and at the same time highly competent child as a successor, yet such a candidate is often not available. Extant literature is unable to predict which desired attribute—commitment (i.e., willingness) or competence (i.e., ability)—is most important in this dilemma. Drawing from institutional logics literature, we suggest that the incumbent’s personal experiences, education, and cultural embeddedness, as much as firm-level situational stimuli, direct incumbent attention to either corporate logic, favoring competence, or family logic, favoring commitment, to guide decision-making about which family member to choose as a successor. We test our hypotheses using policy capturing with responses of 1,060 family firm owner-managers, and contribute to research on succession, family firms, and institutional logics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-353
Number of pages24
JournalFamily Business Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge helpful comments from Kimberly Eddleston, Marc Gruber, Jeremy Miles, Petra Moog, Sabine Rau, Karl Wennberg, and participants of the Stockholm School of Economics research seminar, the Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2014, the 2014 German conference on family firms, and the Rencontres de St.-Gall 2014. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Data collection for this study received financial support from Credit Suisse, Switzerland.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • decision making
  • family firms
  • institutional logics
  • succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Finance


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